Juneau’s cold weather shelter likely will be in a Thane warehouse this winter

a warehouse
A city-owned warehouse in Thane, part of which is used to process ballots, is the likely location of Juneau’s emergency cold weather shelter this winter. (Katie Anastas/KTOO)

City leaders say Juneau’s emergency cold weather shelter will likely be operated by St. Vincent de Paul at a city-owned warehouse in Thane, about a mile from downtown. 

Resurrection Lutheran Church ran the shelter for the last two years at its church in the Flats neighborhood downtown. But this summer, that congregation voted twice not to run it again. No other providers applied because they didn’t have suitable space.

In a third vote on Sunday, the congregation finally approved the shelter — by one vote. But Deputy City Manager Robert Barr said he’d already been working on an alternative with St. Vincent de Paul.

“Since Resurrection Lutheran has voted this down twice, and it was obviously a super narrow vote this Sunday, I have been working closely with St. Vincent’s on a backup plan,” he said.

Barr said city leaders are moving forward with the Thane plan — a decision that Resurrection Lutheran Pastor Karen Perkins said was “baffling” to her. She said the warehouse’s location would make it harder for people to access services there. 

“I was surprised, frustrated, disappointed and hurt,” she said. “And concerned, because at the end of the day, what matters is how well does it address the problem.”

Perkins said the warehouse is better than an idling city bus, which Barr had floated as a “last-ditch option.” But now that her congregation has voted in favor, Perkins thinks the city should take them up on their offer. She said there’s still enough time to get the church ready, and that it’s a better, more welcoming location than the warehouse.

“Of course, if that’s the way things go, we’ll do whatever we can to help,” Perkins said. “But I hope somebody changes their mind because this is a bad idea.”


The warehouse is a mile away from the downtown library. It’s surrounded by industrial buildings and parking lots. Perkins worries that the distance from the downtown core will prevent many patrons from going there, especially if they try to get to the shelter by foot.

“That road, because of the way the road goes, gets a lot of wind. The sidewalks are narrow and are going to be covered with berms once there’s snow,” she said. “Walking there is going to be dangerous.” 

Barr said the location does make transportation more complicated. It’s one of the reasons the city initially ruled out the warehouse. But he said St. Vincent de Paul, the Glory Hall, police and the fire department’s CARES program could help get people to the warehouse.

But Perkins worries that people who usually use the warming shelter – many of whom experience chronic sleep deprivation – may have trouble knowing how to access that transportation. She said that’s especially true if people are experiencing homelessness for the first time.

“I think there’s an illusion that everybody is going to access the services where you’re providing them,” she said.

Barr said the location could address some of the concerns residents had when Resurrection Lutheran ran the shelter during the last two winters. Some congregants and neighbors worried about vandalism and loitering at the church, which is in a neighborhood and near Harborview Elementary School.

“Thane has some advantages to it,” Barr said. “Most notable among them being that it is not in a residential neighborhood, not close to a school.”

But Perkins said people have become familiar with services offered at the church. They also run a food pantry there each week. She said having the warming shelter in a neighborhood can provide consistency for the people who use it. 

“It’s not detrimental to communities, the way a lot of times people assume it is,” she said. “Having it away from communities doesn’t support better outcomes for the patrons.”

a church
Resurrection Lutheran Church, photographed on Oct. 9, 2023. (Katie Anastas/KTOO)

Part of a provider network

Dave Ringle, executive director of Juneau’s St. Vincent de Paul chapter, was still drafting a potential contract on Wednesday morning. But in an interview, he said they plan to keep the shelter open from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. A city bus would pick people up in the morning and take them to the Glory Hall or other locations.

Ringle said his organization has strong relationships with other homeless service providers in Juneau – relationships that can help connect warming shelter patrons with more stable housing.

“I would expect, if we started to have over 40 to 50 people, we would meet with service providers, look at the numbers, and identify what are the options within our other service providers where some of these people would go,” he said. 

St. Vincent de Paul, the Glory Hall and AWARE have community navigators who help connect people to housing, medical care and other social services.

“I think that’s going to make a big difference,” Ringle said. “The goal would be to have us all work together to keep the shelter numbers down.”

St. Vincent de Paul has affordable apartments, transitional housing and supportive housing throughout the borough. Some of that housing is just for seniors, who make up a growing portion of their clientele, Ringle said.

Staffing and capacity

Ringle said he plans to ask the city for flexibility on weather requirements that prompt the shelter to open. The shelter is required to open when temperatures are expected to dip below 32 degrees, but Ringle said he’d like the option to stay open when it’s slightly warmer, too.

“We will submit a budget to the city as if we need to open every day,” he said. 

Ringle expects that budget to be between $240,000 and $250,000. That would fund at least three staff members. Resurrection Lutheran leaders had said they would ask for about $290,000 to run the shelter, plus a usage fee to cover repairs and maintenance. They planned to have three staff members available and a full-time manager.

Ringle said they also had three staff members when St. Vincent de Paul ran the warming shelter at the armory from 2020 to 2021. The space became unavailable once the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council started using it again.

“If there is an emergency, having three people is the safest way for staff to handle that,” Ringle said. “We received excellent compliments from Juneau police and Capital City Fire and Rescue about that, and we’re going to hope that we can build on those relationships we established when we were running it before.”

Barr said they plan to serve 35 to 50 people a night at the warming shelter. But Ringle said the warehouse has enough space to accommodate more, if needed.

“Another advantage of having a very large space would be it might allow our guests more space and eliminate some of the conflict and confrontations that might come up when you have everyone crowded into a smaller area,” Ringle said.

The warehouse has heating, insulation and electricity. Part of it is used to process ballots, and the rest is used for storage. The city will have to remove items it stores there and add bathrooms, which would be port-a-potties. Barr said he hopes to have that done by the end of October.

The city provides cots for the warming shelter. Ringle said St. Vincent de Paul will provide food at night and in the morning. As the opening date gets closer, Ringle said they’ll likely accept donations of blankets, hats and coats.

The Juneau Assembly still has to approve the use of the warehouse for the shelter. The Assembly’s next meeting is Oct. 23.

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